Last week I introduced the Soviet Montage Theory by telling you a little bit about what it was trying to address in a general sense. This week we can talk some details!
The 5 (er… 6) Methods of Montage According to Eisenstein
Montage, or motion picture editing, can take many forms. Knowing how shot movements, timing, and compositions can make viewers feel will make your visual storytelling more effective. Taking it a step further, knowing how to juxtapose shots in an assembly effectively using Montage Theory techniques can make your sequences stronger both visually and conceptually.
But in the early days of film it wasn’t so clear about _how_ it was all actually working in the minds of viewers. Sergei Eisenstein, a film director and theorist, jumped right on the Theory’s bandwagon when it was just starting to be developed and joined the discussion with his contemporary film academics. Then he compiled a list of his findings into clear editing techniques which are still terms used in today’s industry.
Let’s take a look at each of these methods:
- Metric: The cuts in the assembly uniformly follow a specific number of frames, regardless of what’s happening in the frame. The intent is to get the audience’s raw emotions pumping, mostly thanks to a clear rhythm. Music videos feature this quite a bit.
- Rhythmic: The cuts in the assembly are motivated only by a visual continuity – literally drawing from the shapes and movements within each shot to create a visually logical flow, which creates the tempo. So basically, pictures are like music!
- Tonal: The cuts in the assembly are motivated by the emotional intention of each shot, without being manipulated by the length of the shot or the juxtaposition of edits. At its simplest, an example might be simply showing something like a morning seashore to elicit a sense of calm in the viewer.
- Overtonal: Also known as Associational, the cuts in the assembly use Metric, Rhythmic, and Tonal methods together to get more complex emotions and reactions in the viewers. So, for example, maybe after that morning seashore, there might be a quick series of metric-method cuts which flash scenes of horror, followed by a rhythmically cut scene of a person waking up from a dream dramatically. Ta da, you now have created not only a cohesive horror story scene but you can expect a clear and certain type of emotional reaction from your audience at each edit.
- Intellectual: Seemingly unrelated cuts in the assembly are placed together in such a way to convey a greater specific meaning. This is similar to the Overtonal method in the sense that it’s juxtaposing many different shots and concepts with the intent of painting a bigger picture, however intellectual montage is generally more specific and less emotional. For example, a close up image of a spoon, a lighter being lit, and a particularly veiny arm imply nothing beyond the image when viewed on their own respectively, but when juxtaposed they imply drugs being used by someone. A great example of a film which uses montage sequences like this would be Requiem for a Dream.
- Vertical: This is kind of the black sheep of the montage theories because it’s less about the “cut” and more about how the movement, sound, or music can act as additional montage techniques within a shot. Stephen Spielberg is a director who does this a lot in his films. For example, check out the beginning of the drinking match scene in _Raiders of the Lost Ark_. There is one long shot which feels like an entire scene, but where there are no cuts – just movement, sound, and a smart sense of timing.[yframe url=’https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUAueFkVYvA’]
Next week we’ll dig a little deeper and explore some of the counter-theories which were developed in response to the Soviet Montage Theory.